Wounds heal by one of three processes, known as primary, secondary and tertiary intent.
A cut or puncture heals by Primary Intent if the freshly cut edges of the tissue can be brought into contact with each other. In this case, skin will join with skin, connective tissue with connective tissue, etc. This is the most rapid form of healing, and the reason you get stitches for serious cuts. Piercings cannot heal this way because the jewelry prevents closure of the wound.
A cut which remains open heals by Secondary Intent. In this case, a layer of what is known as 'granulation tissue' forms over the injured surface, and a layer of skin will develop over time, replacing the granulation tissue from the edges inward. (Granulation tissue is the pink layer you find under a scab if you pick it off.) This is a slower form of healing than primary intent. Body piercings heal by Secondary Intent. The six week healing period often quoted for navel piercings actually corresponds to the development of the tube of granulation tissue through the piercing. The 'epithelialization' of the piercing, or the replacement of the granulation tissue with skin, is the 6-9 month 'toughening-up' that body piercers talk about. If the body jewelry is removed during this period, the piercing may be lost (see Tertiary Intent).
If a wound is healing by seconday intent, and the surfaces of the granulation tissue are closed together, the surfaces will join, closing the wound. The body then resorbs the granulation tissue, and the underlying structures will rejoin each other. This is how people lose piercings that are 8 months old.
Body piercings heal by Seconday Intent, and if the body jewelry is removed prematurely, they close, healing by tertiary intent.
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